There is nothing like taking a break from the busy city life by relaxing in a kampung under the homestay programme.
FROM Kuantan, I exit the Karak-Gombak highway at Genting Sempah. With only the mobile number of the person I spoke to a few days earlier, mixed emotions of eagerness and apprehension well up inside me. It’s perfectly normal, I think, as this is going to be my first homestay experience.
The road to Kampung Janda Baik winds through a lush greenery of ferns, bamboo and giant trees. Glimpses of wooden houses now and then bring visions of a laid-back lifestyle.
After passing through many bends and going up and down the hilly area, I pull up at the unpaved road leading to the house of the homestay co-ordinator, Mohamad Atal Abdul Manap.
“Come in my car. Let’s go for a gotong-royong. This is a regular community affair. This time, the villagers are cleaning up the cemetery,” says Atal.
How interesting… cleaning up the cemetery as an ice-breaker. “No,” says Atal, as if reading my mind. “We do gotong-royong often, and this time it so happens that we are cleaning the cemetery area,” he explains.
Before long, I find myself mingling and working with the villagers and it helps me get to know them better. No, it isn’t creepy at all to mow the weeds at the cemetery. When we do it together, the load is lighter and there is also much chatter and laughter.
There are about 300 families in this village and over 50 families have signed up as hosts for the homestay programme. Most of the houses have large compounds with well-kept lawns, flowering plants and fruit trees. Atal’s wooden house is a fine example. While sitting at the side porch and chatting in the warm afternoon sun, we hear a sudden rustling of leaves, cracking of twigs and then a thud. “Let me get you some real kampung durians.
I don’t apply pesticides and fungicides,” Atal says while walking towards his “garden”.
I quickly follow suit. He picks up the fruit that has just fallen and prises it open with a small parang. It exudes a strong aroma.
The texture is so fine as I sink my teeth in the yellow and sticky flesh. It tastes so good that it reminds me of what my “Mat Salleh” professor in Psychology in university once said to me:
“It smells like hell but tastes like heaven!”
The day ends quickly and here I am standing in front of a raised concrete well in the bathroom. It reminds me of my younger days when I had to use a plastic ladle to take a bath. Atal had warned me earlier that the water would be very cold and had given me some tips in taking a bath with the cold water. First, wet your feet. Next, your lower limbs then your thighs. After that, wet your chest. Lastly, pour the water over your head. It works! I don’t shiver much and the gnashing of my teeth is minimal.
Dinner at the Porch
The cold bath puts all my senses in top form and works up an appetite. I join my host family at the front porch and sit down on the floor with my legs crossed just like the way they do it. There, our dinner is served.
It is a typical spread of Malay dishes with fried fish, fried chicken and ulam.
“We always take our dinner at the front porch overlooking the garden,” says Atal, but I sense his amusement watching me, a Chinese man, sitting on the floor and taking my food using my fingers.
To me, dining informally this way is truly pleasant and memorable.
As day gives way to night, the nocturnal creatures in the village play their symphony. I lie on the bed in a simple yet clean bedroom and listen to the lullaby from the forest nearby. The cool highland air helps me unwind as I anticipate what tomorrow will bring. Will my foster family bring me on a fishing trip? Or, will I be frolicking in the streams and waterfalls? Will I get to trek up Gunung Nuang? I mustn’t forget to take a picture of Pulau Santap. It is, I’m told, the birthplace of Janda Baik. Now, there is also the mysterious underwater river called Kepala Gua. I mustn’t miss that, too. Maybe Atal will take me to visit some more families and I will have more of the kampung durians.
I CAN hear roosters crowing and birds chirping as the cool morning breeze caresses my face through the open window and beckons me to rise.
There’s nothing I love more than the crowing of the rooster to herald the dawn of a new day. It’s a far cry from the honking of cars and screeching of brakes in the city.
Stretching like a cat, I take a deep breath. Washing up in the cold highland water gets me wide awake and raring to go.
I can hear Mohamad Atal’s wife Zaitun making breakfast in the kitchen. The sizzling sound and the aroma from frying eggs quickly fill the house and draw me to the kitchen. I can see a sumptuous spread of Malay-style fried rice, fried eggs, fresh cucumber slices, curry puffs and sweet dessert.
“Tea or coffee?” asks Mohamad Atal, my homestay host. “Campur, please,” I reply. This is how I love my cuppa. Mixing the tea and coffee gives me the best of both worlds.
A short distance from Atal’s house is an ornamental fish farm. The rain the night before leaves a lingering mist over the mud ponds.
This is my lucky day. I can see farm owner Luke Shori and team hauling in the imported Japanese carp, also called koi. Dressed in a blue wet suit and a hat, he carefully grabs one koi at a time with his bare hands and places it in a polybag.
The koi’s last struggle for freedom is truly a sight to behold. Under ideal conditions, these koi can grow to a metre in length and have a life span of 30 years.
With a combination of white, black and red markings, these colourful koi demonstrate strength. They are highly sought after by ornamental fish hobbyists the world over. They are often housed in elaborate pond systems that are aesthetically landscaped.
Exclusive Bungalow for Rent
Kampung Janda Baik has a network of narrow winding roads. It takes a while to figure out where you are and how to move about. After a number of turns and steep inclines, we pull into a large bungalow.
“Let me show you the holiday home of the mega-rich,” says Atal. This 3½ storey bungalow is built on a hill slope and offers a panoramic view of the rainforests.
It has 12 fully furnished bedrooms. The kitchen is well-equipped. Each floor is decorated with a different theme. This place is suitable for off-site company outings.
A set of walkie-talkies comes in handy, unless you want a good workout running up and down the stairs to communicate with others.
This place is yours for RM3,000 a day.
Atal says one David Kok is among the many rich people who own bungalows and villas here. Together, these structures lend character and add to the enchanting landscape of Janda Baik.
No Diamonds Here
What happens when two rivers meet? A kind of chemistry takes place. The meeting of the Bunus and Ceringging rivers is the birthplace of Janda Baik.
In the early days, there was a small islet where Sultan Abu Bakar of Pahang took his meals.
Santap is the language of the royal courts which means the Sultan is having his meal. The place was aptly named Pulau Santap.
The islet is no more to be seen but the place still entices visitors to have a picnic or take a dip in its shallow water. Like many visitors, I wade in the cold water in search of precious stones.
No diamonds but rather smooth-rounded rocks and pebbles are strewn all over. These are truly nature’s works of art that took decades to form.
More Kampung Durian
Visiting each other’s homes is typical of the kampung way of life. Here I am at the residence of Abdullah with goats and sheep grazing in his large compound. Sporting a bushy moustache and dressed in loose white clothing, he leads us to his open-air “basement”.
It’s a fine example of living space created in a traditional Malay house raised on wooden beams. His wife Liza is no ordinary kampung lady, as she has acted in local films.
“Care to have some kampung durians?” asks Abdullah.
“Yes, please,” I reply, hardly able to contain my eagerness. Eating the sweet durian yesterday is still fresh in my mind. Yummy, as I lick the creamy flesh off my fingers.
There’s something about the land and climate that produces such good durians. Even Abdullah and Liza gave up their life in the city to settle here.
“This is a good place to raise our children with good values and virtues,” asserts Liza.
It’s Not Over
The unrelenting rain keeps us from making the trip to the Ulu Tampit waterfall. It boasts eight tiers with captivating falls. Trekking in the rain is perilous and it will put oneself at the mercy of the leeches.
Gunung Nuang standing at 1,493m is beyond my reach this time. Maybe, next time… when I come fully equipped, both physically and mentally.
As I walk to my car, I hold back my emotions and bid Atal and family goodbye. It dawns on me that I’ve made some new friends. I’ve been well-received and taken care of by my new “family”.
The legend of the good widow or “Janda Baik” lives on.
As I pull my car onto the tarmac, I wave my hand and call out to Atal: “I’ll be back!”
Janda Baik is 52km from Kuala Lumpur and 12km from Genting Sempah.
From Kuala Lumpur, get onto the KL-Karak highway. After the tunnel follow the exit to Genting Sempah. From there follow the signs to Janda Baik.
Best Time to Go
During the fruit season between June and September. For those who love durians, it’s the best time to come.
Things to See and Do
- Learn about the Malay culture through staying with foster parents.
- Visit the Orang Asli Museum at Gombak for a firsthand look at their handicrafts.
- Trek up Gunung Nuang. Explore the caves.
- Fish in the rivers. Get wet at the waterfalls.
- Shop for local produce such as fruits and vegetables at Bukit Tinggi new village.
- Go for an educational tour of the rainforest, farms and plantations.
Day Trip Package: RM100-150 per day per person 2D/1N Package: RM260 per day per person 3D/2N Package: RM300-360 per day per person All packages include meals and activities. The rates are negotiable.
For more information, please contact Mohamad Atal Abdul Manap at:
- Pelancongan Dan Homestay Janda BaikNo. 11 Ulu Ceringging Janda Baik 28750 Bentong, Pahang Tel: 09-233 0479 H/p: 019-299 3611
- D’Ark ResortLot 5303, Pulau Santap 28750 Janda Baik Pahang Tel: 09-222 9131/9093 Fax: 09-235 1282
Map, Location and Driving Direction to Kampung Janda Baik: